What better way to encourage your kids to eat vegetables than to plant a vegetable garden? Children will learn about where their food comes from, how seeds sprout, and how plants grow. They will do some work planting, weeding and harvesting and a lot of healthy playing. They will get a little dirty, and that’s all to the good.
For best success, involve your children in planning their garden. If you’re a think-ahead person, you can order seed catalogs now. When you see the first seed packets in the stores, it’s time to begin your plan.
Before you begin, you’ll need to know how big your garden will be. If you don’t already have a garden, you need a sunny spot not too far from the water spigot, so the children can handle at least some of the watering. If you don’t have a garden spot, you might be able to find a community garden space. Otherwise, think containers!
Don’t make the space too large the first year. You want your kids to have fun with their garden and too large a garden is just too much work for little hands.
Once you know how big you want your garden to be and where you’ll put it, draw the garden space on graph paper. Use one inch on the graph paper for a foot in the garden. Put the tallest plants on the north side of the garden, where they will not shade the other plants. Otherwise, let your imagination rule.
Ask the children what they want to grow. Seed catalogs, other gardeners or your county extension agent can tell you if a particular crop will grow in your climate. Or, you can simply experiment.
Consider tying poles together teepee-style and growing runner beans on them to make a secret spot the kids can play in. Remember to include some things that sprout fast, such as radishes, so the children have “instant” success.
There is no rule that says paths must be straight, but do leave room for them so the children can weed and harvest — and just run around. Don’t be afraid to mix flowers and vegetables. You will have fewer insect pests and other problems if you do. Plant in rows or in patches, whichever you prefer.
Once you have your garden plan worked out, the children can put pictures of the plants in the appropriate places on the plan. Use cutouts from seed catalogs or magazines, or have them draw and paint the plants and flowers they hope to grow.
If you have a sunny window, follow up your plan by planting some summer squash seeds in paper cups. Punch drainage holes in the bottom of the cups, fill them with potting soil, and push in the seeds. Water and put them on a tray in the sun. (If some die, that’s OK, because you’ll have more squash than you can give away anyhow!)
When it’s time to plant the garden, make sure you have all of the necessary tools on hand so that the kids do not get frustrated when you have to stop to find something. Depending on how much time you have to work in the garden, you may want to break up some of the tasks into separate days. For example, getting the soil ready may be a task for one Saturday; planting can be saved for the following Saturday. Or, you may wish to prepare the soil beforehand, so that the children can just do the fun part!
Gardens need daily care, so make a simple growing calendar for your children. Purchase a large desk calendar for the wall or use poster board and mark off the days of the month. Use colorful stickers or construction paper images of watering cans, weeds, and other tasks to help children remember what they need to do and when they need to do it.
Above all, remember to have fun. If the rows aren’t perfect, or the garden gets too much water one day, let it go. This garden is your chance to instill in your children a lifelong love of growing and caring for living things. It also can be a great source of pride for your children, so remember to make a big deal about it and praise the garden often.
When it’s time to harvest the small crops, have your children help you choose recipes to use the vegetables, and pack up gift baskets for the extra bounty. Don’t forget to take a picture of your child in the garden!
Copyright (c) 2007 Pat Brill